UPDATE A long-awaited and controversial tower project proposed by Homeland Towers near Cold Spring Cemetery in Nelsonville, NY has encountered another obstacle, this time in the form of a winged, nocturnal animal. The proposed tower site is a habitat for the Northern Long-Eared Bat, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act after suffering a 98 percent population decline due to a fungus, reported the Putnam County Record. The bat’s status impacts the cutting of trees, the next step in the tower build.
To protect the bats’ habitat, from April 1 to November 1, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) prevents tree removal in the area, since mother bats and pups nest in trees. The bats are essential to the area’s ecosystem as they eat insects that can carry diseases like Zika, encephalitis, and West Nile.
Homeland Towers dispatched crews a few days before the DEC protections began on April 1, with the mayor accusing the company of “pressuring the village to approve the tree-cutting.”
However, the Nelsonville Building Inspector refused Homeland’s demand for a “partial building permit,” allowing just tree removal, reported the Record. Since January, a federal court and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been arguing about whether the bats should be listed as “threatened” or “endangered” – with the former pushing the latter for a change in status.
According to the Record, Homeland “had good reason” to begin the tree removal project during the Northern Long-Eared Bat hibernation season, which ends on March 31. Since the species is currently listed as “threatened,” not “endangered,” the USFWS allows for habitat-destroying activities like cutting down nesting trees during the hibernation season. If the bat status changes to “endangered,” the habitat will be protected year-round, which would stop the tower project.
The Village of Nelsonville currently has a legal obligation to protect the trees at the proposed site until November 1, and must adhere to the permitting process. Originally, Homeland submitted a permit to remove 47 trees but updated the request on May 28, to include 66 trees, a 40 percent increase. Additionally, Homeland’s latest building application also contains an NYS Fire Code violation, reported the Record.
As a next step, the Trustees will meet on June 15, via Zoom. During that meeting, officials will review Homeland’s latest permit application.